How weight affects the heart

Your heart suffers the consequences of your body weight and fat distribution

Illustration: Heart symbole man on weighing machine

Your body weight is influenced by the energy intake from food and the energy spent by physical activity. If you regularly consume more energy than is required or can be used up, you start gaining weight. The excess energy that is consumed or not burnt is stored as fat. If this continues for long, you become overweight and, ultimately, obese. Overweight is weighing little more than suggested for your height. Obesity is a step ahead of being overweight and a state where the excess accumulation of fat starts affecting health. It is the largest factor contributing to the increase in chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and also some cancers. As stated by American Heart Association, obesity is a major factor that determines if you will develop heart disease.

The healthy range

You are within healthy range if your weight is in proportion to your height. The appropriate way to find your healthy range is by using a weight – height chart or by calculating your Body Mass Index [BMI]. This is a vital tool to determine obesity and assess the risk of diseases. Adults with a BMI of 25 are considered overweight and those with a BMI of over 30 are considered obese. People having a higher BMI are at greater risk of suffering from certain lifestyle disorders particularly heart diseases as compared to those within the healthy range.

Apple or pear

Where fat is deposited matters too. People with ‘apple-shaped’ obesity [having excess fat around the middle] are at an increased risk of disease as compared to those with ‘pear shaped’ obesity [having excess fat around hips and thighs].

As the area and distribution of fat is also a considerable factor, it is important that the body proportion is measured. Therefore, these days, the waist circumference or the waist to hip ratio is measured. If your weight is within normal range, but you have increased fat around your waist, it is still a matter of concern.

Recent studies advocate that although BMI is a predictor of heart disease, one’s waist-to-hip ratio alone can also be a strong forecaster of heart trouble.

How excess weight affects heart

Those who develop fat around the middle have more chances of developing fatty deposits in their blood vessels, than those having lower waist-to-hip ratios. Fat around the waist seems to be more active as it secretes inflammatory proteins that contribute to the fat deposition in the blood vessels. This means that even if you are not obese, you are still at an increased risk for heart disease if you have an increased waist size. Some of the heart problems that overweight or apple-shaped individuals may undergo include:

1. Coronary Heart Disease

As of today, Coronary Heart Disease [CHD] is the biggest silent killer in the world. It results when the blood supply to the heart is interrupted. This usually occurs when the blood vessels of the heart get blocked due to the deposition of plaque on their inner walls [atherosclerosis]. Plaque is nothing but deposits of calcium, cholesterol, fat and other substances. Calcium is more likely to be found in persons with greater waist-to-hip ratio. When the blood supply is interrupted, it can produce chest pain, medically termed as angina.

2. High cholesterol

This is a condition where the bad cholesterol and other lipids like triglycerides are high and the good cholesterol is low. It is determined by a laboratory test called ‘lipid profile’. High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease.

This is how it works. Cholesterol and triglycerides are the main forms of fat [lipids] carried in the blood. We get them from food and also from our liver. Fats, being insoluble in water, are unable to travel through blood and are hence carried to the parts of the body with the help of cholesterol. Cholesterol is placed into packages called lipoproteins, which are made from lipids and proteins.

Low density lipoprotein [LDL] or ‘the bad cholesterol’ and high density lipoprotein [HDL] or ‘the good cholesterol’ are the main lipoproteins. LDL is the main carrier of cholesterol. HDL’s job is to remove excess bad cholesterol and bring it back to the liver for breakdown. If your diet has too much fat, the liver increases the production of these lipoproteins. But the good cholesterol is unable to remove all the bad cholesterol. As a result, more LDL pieces get stuck to the arterial wall. This hastens the process of atherosclerosis or fatty deposition and, at some point, the blood vessels may get blocked. If the blocked vessel happens to be one in the heart, a heart attack may result. Hence, it’s important for all to check their lipid levels including underweight individuals and those who have less fat on their body. This is because it’s possible that the cholesterol levels in your blood are high. If so, you are still at a greater risk of suffering from heart problems.

3. High blood pressure

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing the walls of the blood vessels, when heart is pumping out blood for circulation Your body needs to maintain a desirable range of blood pressure to function properly. If the pressure rises consistently or remains high for a longer period it can be harmful. Having excess weight contributes to this problem by increasing the workload on the heart. The heart has to pump more blood and with greater force to meet the body’s requirements. Also, if there is narrowing of blood vessels due to fatty deposits, more efforts are needed to meet the circulation demands. This ultimately increases the blood pressure and can be dangerous to your health.

4. Heart rate irregularities

Heart rate is a measure that determines how hard the heart is functioning. If the heart rate is high, it means the heart is beating faster [and working harder]. In obese individuals, the weight is more than the body can sustain. This makes the heart work harder to meet the circulation demands of the body and to provide adequate energy. When this increased workload on heart continues for a long time, it causes the heart muscles to thicken [hypertrophy]. This thickening can continue and eventually hinder overall heart efficiency and could be a cause for heart failure.

Underweight

Being underweight means having a body weight below what is ideal for your height and age. It is defined as BMI below 18.5. Being underweight does not necessarily mean you are healthy. There are chances that your body could be deficient in essential vitamins, minerals and other vital nutrients. This can put you at an increased risk of suffering from nutritional deficiencies and related problems like anaemia. Let’s find out how low weight directly affects the heart.

1. Anaemia

In anaemia, the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood decreases. This can affect the circulation and the heart as it may not receive enough oxygen. This can lead to chest pain. Additionally, lack of oxygen will make the heart work harder to meet the bodily needs and eventually the heart muscles can get thickened. All these effects can increase your risk of suffering from heart disease.

2. Heart rate irregularities

There are increased chances of suffering from heart abnormalities. There can be irregularities in the beating of the heart and are termed as heart irregularities or arrhythmias.

Underweight people generally have an insufficient intake of calories. As the body does not get enough energy for daily activities, it begins to conserve by modifying the regular functions. The heart may beat at a slower rate, which also lowers blood pressure. If this continues for long, you can suffer from decreased heart rate and low blood pressure. For both these parameters, if the counts fall below the range, it can be dangerous to your health. It can cause a permanent damage to your heart and could also be a cause for heart failure.

Help your heart

So, maintain a healthy weight and a proportionate body form. Focus on your waist circumference and waist to hip ratio. Watching your weight will enable you to take appropriate action and reduce the risk of heart disease. Keeping your heart healthy will also keep you away from other health problems.

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